Saturday, 25 April 2015
Sunday, 22 March 2015
Salmond on Marr, Soubry on Salmond, Murphy in meltdown – just another day in Scotland-dominated UK politics!
SNP membership hits 100,000, polls couldn’t be better or more consistent – and Scottish politics seem so human, vibrant, cutting edge - and Westminster politics so tired, so contemptibly predictable, locked in the past.
Anna Soubry MP does a fine archetypal Tory woman impression of Ann Widdecombe in full expostulating, "end-of-Britain-as-we-know-it" mode.
I must give Anna full credit - she does synthetic indignation body language better than anyone littering the Tory benches today.
Stuffed full of John McTernan soundbytes, Jim Murphy falls apart under Andrew Neil's relentless professionalism - and the cold, hard facts of the polls.
Defensive, misjudging speed of delivery, lurching in typical fashion from Scottish Labour backroom brawler mode to cloying attempts to ingratiate - all in all, Murphy's painful swansong.
Monday, 22 December 2014
During the long referendum campaign, online commentators such as myself had to think hard about the potential negative impact on YES of raising certain questions, offering certain opinions, addressing certain topics, voicing certain criticisms, and the wisdom of giving them “the oxygen of publicity”.
The campaign inevitably polarised opinion, and given the tsunami of abuse and misinformation thrown at YES by the Better Together campaign, the might of the UK unionist media and the Whitehall and the Treasury machines, I was reluctant, like many others, to risk giving ammunition to the other side.
But this instinct had to be rationally balanced against to need to correct perceived inaccuracies and damaging beliefs (I mean as perceived by me) that, if not countered, would have pernicious effects on our struggle for the independence vote. This led me into difficult waters over, for example, the BBC and NATO, where I felt I was serving the cause more effectively by speaking out than maintaining a silence. The question of BBC bias – where I took the position that, although there were many specific examples of blatant bias, the BBC was not the devil incarnate, and much of its output was not only objective, but absolutely vital to informing the electorate – was a long running war with other YES supporters, many of whom I had, and still have the highest respect for.
NATO was a much more difficult one – it was a fundamental point of principle for me (and a few others) and it produced some very bitter attacks on me by email and online. It divided the Party at Conference, and it led to my resignation from the SNP. Post referendum, I’ve bitten that bullet and rejoined, not because I’m reconciled to NATO membership, but because post-indyref politics have shifted its significance – for the moment.
On the monarchy, as a republican by conviction I was prepared to accept the FM’s position of constitutional monarchy, believing it was a realpolitik price worth paying to get a YES. Now, after the putative Queen of Scots’ unwise indyref intervention, I’m not sure it was – or is.
THE NEW INDY POLITICS
A few months before the 18th September, I offered an algorithm to a highly-respected media contact – one I now regard as a friend – setting out what I saw as the possible results of various indyref outcomes. I won’t reproduce it here – suffice it to say, outcomes I didn’t forecast were
First Minister’s resignation after a NO vote
the unprecedented surge in SNP membership
High YES supporter morale
inexorable SNP poll gains
the launch of a new Scottish newspaper, The National, supporting independence.
Neither did anybody else!
The new post-indyref politics are normal party politics resumed, but in a highly volatile and unpredictable UK political context, with the immediate focus on the general election 2015 (GE2015) and the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary elections.
I think it’s fair to say that not all YES supporters are entirely comfortable in the new political climate. Having flocked to the SNP banner, and had the adrenalin rush of Nicola’s triumphal tour, indulged understandable schadenfreude at the uncomprehending splutters of indignation from the “winners” of the referendum, relaxed in a kind of post-coital phase, they’re now looking for action of the kind they grew accustomed to in the campaign.
Most have adjusted, thrown themselves into the new politics enthusiastically, battle-hardened, tempered in the indyref fires and ready to work for independence in a dazzling variety of new ways. But some are pining for the old binary certainties – clearly identifiable villains and heroes, and simple characterisations and choices – and are a bit lost. One dedicated indyref campaigner described himself to me as feeling ‘bereft’ at the void in his life since September.
And so to thinking the unthinkable …
Throughout the campaign, there was a strand of independence thought from supporters (never from politicians or party animals to my knowledge. and little from media commentators) on a taboo subject, UDI – a Unilateral Declaration of Independence.
Most of this, at least as I experienced it, as I carried out the tedious and sometimes depressing task of pre-moderating blog and YouTube comments and my email inbox, was adolescent nonsense, whatever the age of those articulating it. But some of it was rooted in deeper thinking about possible reactions to scenarios that could, at least in theory unfold.
I have some limited vicarious experience of historical UDI, though a Rhodesian connection and from those who were part of the Slovenian velvet revolution. And there was the very real situation and stark choices facing our staunch friends of Scotland in Galicia and Catalonia over their own referendum.
All of this came back to me in the last few days when a Danish friend, political contact and invaluable information source asked what kind of situation could give rise to a UDI in Scotland, even if I fundamentally rejected such a course of action – which I do.
Here is the answer I gave -
The only sequence of events that would provoke UDI I could foresee would be -
UK refusal to legitimise a referendum request
such a referendum then being held without a UK legal basis
a significant majority resulting, in the order of, say, 65%/35%.
For such a scenario to unfold at all, it would probably have been preceded by a majority of Scottish Westminster seats having previously fallen to SNP and other Scottish indy-supporting parties - a possibility in the general election of May 2015.
However, it could not be a velvet revolution like, say, Slovenia's because of the massive disentanglement of institutions required - and the fundamental question of control of the Clyde nuclear base.
It would of course potentially provoke an immediate crisis of loyalty in the armed forces in Scotland, and the possible emergence of powerful anti-democratic forces, perhaps through the military establishment.
These conditions are unlikely to arise, in my view, and I hope they never do - in my lifetime or anyone else’s – but they are conceivable.
The much more likely scenario for GE2015 is significant Westminster seat gains, and a confidence and supply arrangement with Labour, either to permit them to form a minority Labour government a la Salmond 2007 in Holyrood, or to support them against a Tory/LibDem/UKIP coalition.
And on that note, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Thursday, 28 August 2014
Only 20 days to go - it's hard to believe. The campaign seems to have been going on for ever, but like everything in life, suddenly the event is upon you – there’s all the time in the world, then suddenly, there’s little time left.
It's very hard to predict what the outcome will be.
If the polls are to be believed (poll of polls average) YES will lose. There's no doubt that there is a very fearful NO constituency out there of Scots over 55 who fear change, fear uncertainty, and cling to the status quo, even though the risks are greater in remaining in UK.
There's also a hard core of selfish Scots - the "I'm alright Jock" complacent group, with no thought for the vulnerable in our society.
Set against that is the totally unique nature of the Scottish Referendum. There quite literally has been nothing like this - anywhere, ever.
A peaceful, democratic process by an ancient nation that was never conquered, but entered reluctantly, but voluntarily into a partnership with a larger nation 307 years ago, with many of its ancient institutions still functioning - its legal system, its church, its education system, its own NHS (since 1948), its own Parliament - and vitally, a mass YES movement, the largest in British history, totally unprecedented, that has catalysed ordinary people across society and political divides, ethnic origins, age and sex demographics into political and constitutional awareness.
A referendum turnout of over 80% is expected to vote, and crucially, this will include people who have never voted before in their lives, and people who were never registered to vote.
Pollsters do not poll voters with no previous voting record, so this group, size unknown, is not reflected in poll results. Additionally, this group exists predominantly among the working class and the deprived, which is where YES has its greatest support - for obvious reasons.
YES has a huge army of foot soldiers, campaigning daily across Scotland, not just stuffing leaflets, but carrying out their own polls on voting preferences. These results, together with an equally unprecedented attendance at political YES meetings across Scotland, with village halls packed out, all present an encouraging picture.
So there's all to play for!
Wednesday, 9 July 2014
Friday, 11 April 2014
Speech – Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
15:00- 15:35, Friday 11 April – SNP Conference
Check against delivery
We gather here in Aberdeen today with just over five months to go to the biggest and best opportunity we will ever have to build a better country. I doubt if our predecessors, presiding over the birth of our Party exactly 80 years ago this week, would have intended it to take us quite so long to get here. ut, friends, here we are, standing at last on the threshold of our nation's independence.
Of course, we wouldn't and couldn't have come this far without the toil, the occasional tears and the hard-won triumphs of generations of nationalists who have gone before us.
Last year, we said farewell to Aberdeen’s very own Brian Adam and to my dear friend and election agent, Allison Hunter - two nationalists who, in my book, are simply irreplaceable.
And just last week we lost an icon of our movement, the one and only Margo MacDonald. Margo electrified Scottish politics when she won Govan in 1973. Her contribution to Scotland and to our cause has been immeasurable. She was, truly, an independent spirit and we will not see her like again.
Conference, let us pay tribute to Margo MacDonald.
Brian, Allison and Margo - dear to us as they were - are three names amongst many. There are countless nationalists who paved the way but who didn't live to see the final stage of this journey. To each and every one of them who worked so hard for so long to give our generation the chance to see our dream realised, let us say a simple and heartfelt 'thank you'.
Of course, the best way to say 'thank you' is to win. So let us also make this declaration today.
On the 18 September, we do intend to win a Yes vote.
We are going to win our independence.
The momentum is now clearly and firmly with Yes. But if we are going to deliver on that declaration, we have much work still to do. Our job is to persuade our fellow Scots - with facts, with reason and with passion - what we know in our hearts and in our heads to be true.
The best way, the only way, to build a wealthier Scotland, a fairer Scotland and a more confident Scotland is to equip ourselves with the full powers of independence.
When the First Minister named the date of the referendum just over a year ago, I made a quiet but firm promise to myself. I resolved that I will not wake up on 19 September wishing I had done more or worked harder.
Let us all, today, make that same promise.
Over these next months, we will re-double our efforts.
We will work harder than we have ever done before.
We will go that extra mile.
Because the prize is this:
Not the end of the journey.
But the beginning of a better future.
Scotland – an independent, free and equal member of the family of nations.
I have no doubt that the energy, the commitment and the sheer numbers of people dedicated to winning a Yes vote will be a major factor in the outcome of this referendum.
Yes Scotland is already the biggest and most exciting grassroots campaign our country has ever seen and it is an absolute privilege to be part of it.
We have Women for Independence, Business for Scotland, National Collective, Generation Yes, Farming for Yes, Trade Unionists for Yes, Academics for Yes, Scots Asians for Yes, Seniors for Yes, Radical Independence, Wealthy Nation and many, many more.
We have local Yes campaign groups in every corner of our country.
Our positive movement for change is growing with every single day that passes and let me predict today that by the time we reach September, our momentum will be simply unstoppable.
Each and every one of us has a vital part to play.
And play it we must.
Because, make no mistake, the Westminster establishment is fighting hard too. There will be no scare, no threat, no smear that they will not deploy.
Just this week, we've been warned, by none other than our dear, old friend, Lord George Robertson, that independence will be 'cataclysmic' and a boost to the 'forces of darkness'.
According to George, we are now a threat to the stability of the entire Western world.
Which, you've got to admit, is no mean achievement for a party that was supposed to have been killed stone dead by devolution.
With friends like Lord George, it's no wonder the No campaign is in trouble. And it is in deep trouble.
We've had the currency confession.
I don't often quote UK government ministers, but I'm going to make an exception for the one who was caught telling the truth. 'Of course, there would be a currency union'.
That quote sent Alistair Darling into a tailspin. His response to it prompted a Downing Street source to say this: “I don’t know what thought process he was going through.”
I say, welcome to the club. It speaks volumes that the blame game in the No campaign has already begun. The Liberals say Labour isn’t working hard enough. Labour says no-one believes the Liberals anymore.
And the Tories?
Well, the lecture tour continues.
But I can report today that the Prime Minister, who promised to fight for the union with heart, head, body and soul, is still struggling to locate that part of his anatomy that will allow him to agree to a debate with Alex Salmond.
The blunders of the No campaign are undoubtedly a bonus for Yes. But if I was a supporter of the Union, I would be in despair. Project Fear has not only failed to make a positive case for the Union. It has destroyed the very foundation on which that case might have been based.
In their attempts to scare and threaten the Scottish people, the No campaign has torn apart the notion of the UK as an equal partnership.
We are told that if we vote for independence, we'll have to stump up for a share of Westminster's debt. But we will have no right to any of the assets that we have helped to build and pay for through our taxes, our National Insurance contributions and our licence fees.
As long as we stay with Westminster, they will allow us to benefit.
But if we vote Yes they will decide what we are entitled to.
That attitude demonstrates precisely why Scotland must be independent. The idea of the UK as an equal partnership has been shown up to be a sham. To vote No is to endorse a partnership in which Westminster calls all the shots and Scotland knows her place.
We cannot - we must not - allow that to happen.
If we want a real partnership of equals between Scotland and the other nations of our islands, be in no doubt.
We must vote Yes.
We must choose independence.
I was struck earlier this week by these words:
"Our nations share a unique proximity. We also share a common narrative, woven through the manifold connections between our people and our heritage."
These words were spoken by Michael Higgins, the President of Ireland, during his state visit to the UK this week. And what they demonstrate - through the example of independent Ireland - is that political independence and a strong, enduring, social union can, and do, go hand in hand.
I joined the SNP back in the late 1980s. I was motivated to do so by the damage I saw being done to the community I lived in, by a government Scotland didn’t vote for. That government was eventually defeated by a Labour Party that had become little more than a pale imitation of the Tories it replaced. And now nearly 30 years later, the fabric of our society is again under threat from a government that has no mandate in Scotland.
The positive message at the heart of the Yes campaign is that it does not have to be this way. So let this ring out from our conference today.
Scotland can be independent.
Scotland should be independent.
And Scotland must be independent.
We are one of the wealthiest countries on the planet. No-one now seriously disputes that fact. If we were independent today, we would be the 14th richest country in the world. The UK would be 18th.
So the big question is not whether Scotland is wealthy enough to be independent.
The real question is why so many people in this rich nation of ours don’t feel the benefit of our great wealth.
And that is the burning question that should follow each and every Westminster politician every single day between now and 18 September. One of the most disgraceful and distressing developments of the past few years has been the rapid rise of food poverty in Scotland.
In 2010, the Trussell Trust - the country's biggest provider of food banks - gave emergency food parcels to just over 4,000 people.
By last year, that number had increased to more than 56,000. So many children are now reliant on food aid, that one provider in Glasgow includes nappies in its emergency parcels. The thought of that makes me want to cry.
In one of the richest countries in the world, we have parents - many of them in work - who can't afford the basics for their children.
That is an utter scandal.
And, make no mistake, there is a direct causal link between the growing reliance on food aid and the Tory welfare cuts.
The Tories actually seem quite proud of it. For them, cutting benefits for poor people is a moral crusade. Well, let us say this loudly and clearly to the Tories - your morality is not our morality. And with a Yes vote in September, we will put that beyond any shadow of doubt.
There is no silver lining to the cloud of food banks. But if there is anything at all to be optimistic about it is the way in which people across the country have pulled together to gather and distribute food for those in need.
I want today to pay tribute to all of those people and organisations - including some of our major supermarkets - who are doing this vital work.
The Scottish Government will continue to do all we can to mitigate the worst impact of the Tory assault on the poor and vulnerable.
I can announce today that we will provide an additional £1 million over the next two years to support the efforts of those working so hard to combat the scandal of food poverty in our country.
Earlier this week the Scottish Government published an analysis showing that the cumulative impact of Tory welfare cuts in Scotland is £6 billion.
The Tories pretend that the cuts are all directed at the so-called 'scroungers'. But in truth it is the working poor, children and the disabled who are hardest hit.
One of the services being affected is the Independent Living Fund. It provides financial support to disabled people so that they can live in the community and participate in work, training or education. Back in 2010, one of the first acts of a certain Maria Miller was to announce the closure of this Fund to new applicants.
Then the decision was taken to close it altogether. But I can announce today that the Scottish Government will establish a Scottish Independent Living Fund. It will support the more than 3,000 people in Scotland who depend on the existing fund. And we will invest an extra £5m a year to open up the Fund to new applicants, so that people with disabilities can live full, active and independent lives.
Our Scottish Government will never walk by on the other side. But let me say this from the heart. I didn't come into politics to mitigate miserable Tory policies. Like you, I came into politics because I wanted to help build a better country.
And with independence, that is exactly what we will do.
Of course, there are still many people across our country who, despite its record, retain a loyalty to Labour and who believe that the answer to a Tory government is not independence, but another UK Labour government. I want to speak directly to them today. I ask them to look at the evidence.
For half the time since the end of the Second World War we have been saddled with governments we did not vote for. Even when Scotland votes Labour, there is no guarantee that we end up with a Labour government at Westminster. That decision is made by others. It is out of our hands.
And all too often even when there is a UK Labour government, it is the priorities of Westminster, not of Scotland, which prevail. That is why more and more Labour voters are voting Yes.
The chair of Yes Scotland is Dennis Canavan – a former Labour MP who has spent his life campaigning for social justice. Dennis is voting Yes. And, conference, let us thank him today for the outstanding job he is doing. And Dennis is not the only one.
Charles Gray, the former Labour leader of Strathclyde Regional Council is voting Yes.
Alex Mosson, a one time Labour Lord Provost of Glasgow is voting Yes.
Carol Fox, a former Labour candidate, is voting Yes.
Ian Newton, who used to be Alistair Darling's election agent, is voting Yes.
Bob Holman, a Labour member of 53 years standing, the founder of the Easterhouse Project and someone who has devoted his entire life to fighting poverty - he is voting Yes too.
To every Labour voter in the country, I say this. The Yes campaign is not asking you to leave your party. Instead, it offers you the chance to get your party back. A Labour Party free to make its own decisions. No longer dancing to a Westminster tune.
For everyone out there with Labour in your heart, the message is clear.
Don't vote No to stop the SNP.
Vote Yes to reclaim the Labour Party.
The Yes campaign is about hope and optimism. If we win a Yes vote on September 18, Scotland will become an independent country on 24 March 2016 Scottish Independence Day. How good does that sound? A few weeks ago, to mark two years to go to that date, Yes supporters took to social media to give their reasons for voting Yes. The indyreasons hashtag was born. It was truly inspiring. The determination to build a better, fairer country. The sense of ambition. Hundreds of different reasons but a common belief in independence. Not for its own sake - but because of what it will enable us to do. It is a belief founded on democracy.
As deputy leader of the SNP, I want the first government of an independent Scotland to be an SNP government and I will campaign with all my energy to make it so. But to everyone in Scotland, let us make this clear.
A vote for independence is not a vote for the SNP.
A vote for independence is a vote for democracy.
Since 1999, we’ve seen the real benefits of taking decisions here in Scotland.
We’ve passed world-leading climate change and housing legislation.
We've restored the principle of free education.
We've abolished prescription charges.
And we have protected the NHS as a public service.
And make no mistake. It is only because we hold the power to decide in our own hands that I can stand here proudly and say this: for as long as we are in government, there will be no privatisation of the NHS in Scotland.
These are big gains for families and communities. But there are too many things that we can’t do. We can't give our businesses the competitive edge they need to compete with the pull of London. We can't set an immigration policy that meets our priorities as a country.
We can't stop the destruction of our welfare state by a Tory government we didn't want.
And we can't rid our country of weapons of mass destruction.
Last weekend, I spoke at yet another rally in Glasgow, protesting against the presence of Trident nuclear weapons on the Clyde. I was proud to do so.But, friends,
I'm fed up protesting against Trident.
I want to see the back of Trident.
And just think about this.
In less than six months’ time, if we vote Yes, we won’t be in the protest business anymore. We'll be in the removal business. After years of campaigning, we will have the power.
And be in no doubt - we will use that power to remove Trident from Scotland once and for all.
When I think of the choice we face on 18 September, I think first and foremost of children. Not of this generation but of the next. I think of the kids in my own life, my niece and nephews. I want them to grow up as confident citizens in a confident country. I want them to take the independence of their country for granted, to look back and wonder how we could ever have been anything but independent.
And if they choose to live and work overseas, I want it to be because that's what they've decided to do, not because they lack opportunities here at home. I think too of the children in my wonderful, multi-cultural constituency, learning in primary schools where upwards of 20 different languages are spoken. I want them, even though they may not have been born here, to feel that Scotland is where they belong.
And, let me be clear: I want the loudest voices they hear as they grow up to be voices of love and welcome, not those of Nigel Farage, UKIP and the Westminster politicians who so disgracefully pander to them.
With independence, we can do things differently. We can chart our own course. Sing our own song. That is the point. If we vote Yes, I will be as proud as anyone to see the Saltire fly above the United Nations. But, for me, that's not the purpose of independence.
The purpose is to make our country a better and fairer place to live.
I want us to rediscover the spirit that made us home to the great innovators, writers, philosophers and entrepreneurs of the world.
I want us to have the powers to energise our economy. To be a hotbed of enterprise so that we can create the jobs, the opportunities and the wealth that we need to build a better society.
I want us to have the ability to protect and sustain a welfare state that gives people a hand up and provides a safety net for the times when life knocks us down.
And I want us to demonstrate, not by our words, but by our actions, that giving our children the best start in life will alway be - must always be - a much higher priority than obscene and senseless weapons of mass destruction.
These are the essential differences between yes and no.
And these are the reasons we must vote Yes.
I am often asked to sum up why I believe that Scotland should be independent. The truth is there are many reasons. But when I boil it all down, it always comes back to my own life experience. I grew up in a working class family, in the west of Scotland, during the darkest days of Thatcherism. It wasn't inevitable that I would go to university, qualify as a lawyer and end up standing here before you as Deputy First Minister.
I was lucky. I had parents who escaped the misery of unemployment that affected so many others during those years; parents who encouraged and believed in me and who worked hard to make sure I wanted for nothing. And, of course, I had the benefit of a free university education.
And let me pause here just to say this: I will never, ever, in politics, be part of anything that robs future generations of the same access to university that I had. For me, that principle is personal. So I was lucky. But I was surrounded by people who weren't so lucky. Friends and classmates who were just as able as me and who worked just as hard but whose life circumstances conspired against them.
I want to live in a country where it doesn't just come down to luck.
I want to live in a country that uses its vast wealth to ensure that every child, regardless of their background, gets the chance to do what I did.
The chance to follow their dreams and reach their full potential - whatever that might be.
I know that voting yes won't achieve that by magic - we will have to work for it and earn it. We will have to make it happen. But I also know, from decades of experience, that voting No means we won't achieve it at all. And that, in a nutshell, is why I'll be voting Yes.
One of my favourite songs is the beautiful 'Wild Mountainside' sung by Eddi Reader at the opening of the Scottish Parliament building in 2004. I heard her sing it again, two weeks ago, at a memorial service in Govan for the late Hugh MacDonald, another stalwart of our movement. You'll be relieved to hear that I'm not going to sing it to you, but the song includes these words:
'The last mile is upon us. I'll carry you if you fall."
Well, my fellow nationalists, after 80 years of campaigning, the last mile of our journey to independence is upon us. It may well be the hardest mile of all. So we will encourage each other, cheer each other and, yes, if needs be, we will carry each other over the finishing line.
But, friends, we will not fall. I want you to hear this and believe it in your heart. As a tribute to those no longer with us, for everyone lucky enough to be alive at this moment in history and, above all else, for the sake of generations to come, we are going to win.
Scotland is going to be independent.
Or to paraphrase a very special lady, more than 40 years ago:
On 18 September this year, we are going to stop the world.
Scotland is going to get on.
And then, when we do, the next phase of our journey will begin. We will regain our strength, renew our resolve, and we will get on with the job of building a country that our children, our grandchildren and their children will be proud to call home.
A prosperous country.
A fair country.
A confident country.
An independent country.
Sunday, 19 January 2014
Eight calendar months from today, Scotland will know if it’s going to be an independent country or remain a region of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Eight months from today, Scots will wake up either to the realisation that they have made history and are privileged to be present at the birth of a new nation - one that they themselves have created - or to the realisation that a pivotal moment in history has passed, and they have decided to reject a unique opportunity, one that will not come again in the lifetimes of many of them.
Eight months from today, Scots parents and grandparents will know whether they have bequeathed to their children and grandchildren a new nation, with a chance to make a new and better future, or have left them in an old, tired, corrupt nation and in subordination to the last vestige of an old failed empire.
Eight months from today, the young will look at their elders and know whether they have given them autonomy and hope, or whether, driven by personal fear of change and selfish motives, they have denied them that autonomy, that hope, and have denied them their future.
Eight months from today, either the world’s nation will be beating a path to Scotland’s door, fascinated by the birth of a new world nation – in fact, the rebirth of an ancient nation – or will be shaking their heads in bewilderment and thinly-concealed contempt for a people that elected to reject their independence.
What happens eight months from today is in your hands, Scottish voters – you have the chance to make history or let that chance slip away like sand through your fingers, to be blown away for a generation, and perhaps for ever.
Make the right choice
The right choice is to vote YES
Sunday, 6 October 2013
346 days to go to decide if we’re Scotland the Brave or Scotland the Feart – independent for ever or cap-in-hand dependent on UK’s grace and favour, and shamed in the eyes of the world.
Wednesday, 18 September 2013
Monday, 13 May 2013
(N.B. All emphases, italicisation, etc. are mine, and represent my view of significance. They were not present in the SNP transcription of Nicola’s speech.)
NICOLA STURGEON - THE BENEFITS AND POSSIBILITIES OF INDEPENDENCE
In 70 weeks' time, each of us will give our own answer to the question - 'Should Scotland be an independent country?' and the nation, collectively, will decide.
Over the next 70 weeks, people the length and breadth of the country will make up their minds on what is, undoubtedly, the greatest opportunity of our lifetimes. Many will change their minds – perhaps several times – before a final decision puts them in the Yes or the No camp.
Each side will argue its case vigorously and with a determination to win. The campaign will be passionate, noisy and, at times, heated. That is exactly as it should be.
But the division of opinion that is inevitable in a referendum - inevitable in any election - shouldn’t blind us to the fact that, Yes or No, Scotland is one country.
Yes or No, we all care about the future of this nation. We all want the best for the people who live here.
We have different views on how Scotland should move forward. But the day after the referendum, whatever the outcome, we will move forward together.
I have no doubt that, if Scotland votes Yes, those on the No side - elected representatives like Johann Lamont, Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie - will be on Scotland's side, part of the team who will negotiate our independence. And Team Scotland will be stronger as a result.
So, it is with an eye firmly on the day after the referendum that I say this to both sides of the campaign -
We will all do everything in our power to bring about the outcome we desire – but let us also do everything in our power to make the campaign as good, as inspiring and as energising as it can be.
The national opportunity we have over the next 70 weeks - the opportunity to imagine the kind of country we want to be and decide how we best equip ourselves to become that country - is a rare one, and we owe it to the country to rise to the challenge.
Today I will set out the hallmarks of the Yes campaign. The distinctive features of our approach to winning the referendum.
And, be in no doubt, win is what we intend to do.
We have work to do, but our case is reasonable, rational and responsible.
We believe that Scotland should be governed here at home, from our own Parliament not from Westminster; that we should build a new relationship of equals with our friends across these islands; that we should hold the powers in our own hands to shape a nation that lives up to our ambitions of fairness and prosperity; and that we should have no-one else to blame if we fail to do so.
That is the vision that can win the argument and win the referendum.
I am convinced – from talking to people across the country – that there is a natural majority in Scotland for independence. What do I mean by that? I mean that people will vote Yes if we can persuade them that it opens the door to a wealthier and fairer country.
A poll published just last week showed that, even now, with 16 months to go, 47% will already vote Yes or be more likely to do so if we can persuade them that Scotland will be wealthier and fairer - compared to 45% who take the opposite stance.
So my job - our job - is to give people the confidence to be optimistic about Scotland's future; to back ourselves to build a better Scotland. That is our task.
The approach of the Yes campaign will be to inform the debate, while being honest about the judgment Scotland has to make; to set out clearly both sides of the choice people face; and to focus always on the positive contribution Scotland has to make. These are the hallmarks of our campaign; our unique selling points.
The No campaign won't match us - because their campaign depends on fostering a climate of fear and uncertainty, on ignoring the inevitable consequences for Scotland of continued Westminster government; and on talking down what Scotland has to offer.
So, we will work hard to inform the debate - but we won't insult anyone's intelligence. People understand that there are uncertainties for Scotland – as there are for any country – whether we become independent or continue to be governed by Westminster. It is undoubtedly the case that certainty will be maximised if both the Scottish and UK Governments behave responsibly and agree to discuss now the negotiations that will follow if Scotland votes Yes.
But there isn't always an absolute objective truth to be found on issues where negotiation and the policy choices of governments yet to be elected will help shape Scotland. There are facts that will be set out, of course, but the referendum will not simply be a contest of competing ‘facts’.
Instead, when the Yes and No campaigns set out their stalls, people will be asked to make a qualitative judgment about which is more credible and compelling and about who they trust most with Scotland's future.
Is it more or less likely that a government elected in Scotland will reflect the views and priorities of the Scottish people better than a remote government in Westminster that is all too often elected against the clear wishes of Scotland?
Are we more or less likely to build a wealthier and fairer country by taking the powers over tax and welfare into our own hands rather than leaving them at Westminster?
These are the judgments people will make.
Our job is to inform those judgments and that process is already underway.
A range of detailed information has been published already on the structure, platform and potential of an independent Scotland.
In February, we published a detailed paper on the transition to independence - with a timescale described by one of the two legal experts who drafted the UK government's constitutional document as 'realistic' - and plans for a written constitution.
The report of the Fiscal Commission Working Group has set out comprehensive and considered proposals for retaining sterling as the currency in an independent Scotland - a policy described by Alistair Darling as "desirable" and "logical" and supported by two-thirds of Scots.
And a detailed balance sheet shows that Scotland can more than afford to be independent; that our finances are stronger than the UK's; that our share of Westminster's debt will be lower as a proportion of our national wealth than the UK's; that the tax take from Scotland has been higher in every single one of the last 30 years than it has been across the UK; and that pension and welfare costs are more affordable with independence.
And over the next few months, we will publish reports on a range of issues including Scotland’s vast economic potential, welfare and pensions, financial services, defence and foreign affairs.
The UK government is publishing its own papers - but it is already clear that their purpose is less to inform than to frighten.
The inherent weakness in that approach, in my view, is not just that the politics of fear has a limited shelf life.
It is that for the scare stories they tell to come to pass, the UK - presumably in a fit of pique after Scotland votes Yes - would have to act contrary to its own interests. That doesn't stand up to any serious scrutiny. And that's why the UK government won't sit down now and discuss, in a grown up way, the issues we will require to resolve between us after a Yes vote - something they would do if their concern was about informing the public rather than scoring partisan points.
But they won't do it because they know as well as we do that sensible discussion, entered into in good faith, will demonstrate the common sense of our plans for Scotland's transition to independence and our continued relationship with our partners across the UK, and therefore strip them of their ability to peddle fear.
I believe that, as we set out our case, people will increasingly see the tactics of the No campaign for what they are.
The Yes campaign will also set out the clear choice that people face - the benefits of independence and the prospects for Scotland if we don't vote Yes.
This referendum is more than just a decision between the status quo and independence – it is a choice between two very different futures.
One in which we take the power to shape our future into our own hands and another where we leave that power in the hands of a Westminster establishment that is set on a political, social and economic path that most people in Scotland would not choose - austerity and cuts in social protection, privatisation of public services, and possible withdrawal from the EU.
The No campaign won't set out that choice. They will attack the case for independence, but they won't be honest about the implications for Scotland of staying subject to Westminster government on issues like welfare, the economy and nuclear weapons.
I'm told they have asked us 500 questions about independence. I welcome that. The more the focus is on the opportunities of independence, the better.
But the fact is No has its own questions to answer. For people to make an informed choice about whether Scotland will be better off as an independent country, they need to know what the alternative is – what the future holds for Scotland in the UK.
So, let me today ask some very direct questions of the No campaign.
Questions about what will happen to Scotland if No gets its way.
Let's call them the UK 2020 questions.
Will the UK still be a member of the European Union in 2020?
How much more means testing will have been introduced into the UK benefits system by 2020.
What will the UK retirement age be in 2020?
How many more children in Scotland will be living in poverty by 2020 as a result of Westminster welfare cuts?
What will have happened by 2020 to funding for Scotland’s NHS, via the Barnett formula, as England’s NHS is increasingly privatised?
Will there still be a bedroom tax in 2020?
How many more billions of pounds will have been spent by Scottish taxpayers on keeping UK Trident nuclear weapons on the Clyde?
Will the UK still have a Human Rights Act in 2020 and, if not, what will the implications be for Scotland's distinctive legal system?
Will the UK still be the 4th most unequal country in the developed world in 2020 or will it have moved closer to the top spot, with the gap between the richest and poorest even wider?
Will Scotland’s long term economic growth rate still lag behind our competitors in 2020?
Is there any guarantee that Scotland will have voted for the Westminster government that is in office in 2020 - or will it be yet another government elected against the wishes of the Scottish people?And will the Scottish Parliament have any additional powers, beyond those in the Scotland Act, by 2020 – and, if so, what will they be?
To those in the No camp who say these questions can’t be answered because they depend on the policies of future governments, let me gently point out that exactly the same can be said of many of the 500 questions asked of the Yes campaign.
And while the exact answers might be beyond reach at this time, the direction of travel for Scotland under continued Westminster government is all too clear.
In relation to a No vote, this quote from our national bard Robert Burns sums it up best: "An' forward, tho' I canna see, I guess an' fear!"
Ever greater cuts in public spending, a welfare state dismantled beyond recognition, people working longer for less, higher levels of child poverty, a growing gap between rich and poor, billions more wasted on nuclear weapons and no real prospect of any more powers for our parliament.
That is the bleak prospect of sticking with Westminster government - and that’s why a No vote is a real gamble with Scotland's future. A massive gamble with our children's future.
There is a better way. Scotland 2020 can be a better place. It won't happen overnight. We will need to work at it, use the powers and the resources at our disposal to change things for the better.
But it can be done.
Take social protection. We know the welfare state is under attack by Westminster like never before. And we know that welfare is more affordable in Scotland than in the UK, not less.
Independence will give us the chance to recast our social security system for the future. To see it - alongside our NHS and our education system - as the commitment we make to each other in a mutual society, a way of helping people to live full and independent lives, to help people into work, but also to make sure they have a safety net when they can't. A system that supports a growing economy, not one that is written off as a drain on it.
That will take time - but, make no mistake, it can only be done with independence.
And we will be able to make some changes immediately.
A few weeks ago, I pledged that an SNP government in an independent Scotland would scrap the bedroom tax.
Today I am making the second in a series of announcements that will set out our intention to undo the worst impacts of the Tory welfare cuts, particularly as they affect women and children.
The new universal credit system discriminates against women. It undermines the independence of women. Unlike the current system, which makes payments to individual claimants, it will be paid in one single household amount - which will more often than not mean to the man in a household. And because it applies a single earnings disregard when people move into work, it reduces the incentive to work for second earners in a household - who will usually be women.
So when a woman, whose partner already works, gets a job, she will gain very little in return - her marginal tax rate will be upwards of 60%.
It is no wonder that Universal Credit has been described as reinforcing the notion of the male breadwinner - a concept that is outdated and totally out of touch with the reality of many modern families.
So, I can confirm today that we would move away from single household payments and give women back the ability to receive support in their own right. And we would equalise the earnings disregard between first and second earners, making work more attractive for women, more rewarding for women and more likely to lift children out of poverty.
It is just one, very specific change, but the start of a series of policy announcements that, over the months to come, will illustrate clearly and vividly the benefits and possibilities of independence.
Because the fundamental difference between Yes and No is this: No leaves these choices in the hands of Westminster governments – Westminster governments that all too often Scotland doesn’t vote for.
It is only with Yes, with the powers of independence, that Scotland can decide our policies in these and all other areas according to the votes and views of the people who live and work here.
It is only with a Yes vote that we get a parliament and government 100% accountable to all those living and working in Scotland. That is the essence of independence.
It is why I so passionately want Scotland to vote Yes next year.
But, whatever the outcome of the referendum, I also want Scotland to emerge from it as a more confident and self-assured country.
And that is why the Yes campaign will always be positive about Scotland and about the ties that bind us - the ties will always bind us, no matter our constitutional arrangements - to our families, friends and partners across these islands.
What I find deeply troubling about the No campaign is not its opposition to independence - it is absolutely legitimate for anyone to argue that Scotland is better off staying with Westminster government, if that is what they believe.
What troubles me is the No campaign's apparent willingness to paint Scotland as the poor relation that would have nothing to bring to the table as an independent nation. When they say that Westminster wouldn’t want us in a currency union, or the EU wouldn’t want us as members, they write off at a stroke the massive resources, talents and attributes that mean that we would - in reality - be a welcome member of the international community and a valued partner to our friends across these islands.
Yes, we will have to pay our way and drive hard bargains – but we will do so with the massive advantages we have as a nation and we will be able to speak with our own voice to better protect our own interests.
To suggest otherwise seems to me to wilfully diminish the country and all that we are for purely partisan reasons.
So there is no doubt that an emerging divide in the referendum debate is between those of us who attach merit and value to Scotland in its own right, and those whose case appears, increasingly, to devalue what Scotland has to offer.
Indeed, one of the great ironies of the referendum debate so far is that the tone and content of the No campaign is actually the antithesis of the traditional case for the Union in Scotland.
The theory of Unionism from 1707 through to the 20th century - although not the actual Scottish experience - was that Scotland was an equal partner within a wider venture, just as good and just as worthwhile as our larger neighbour south of the Border.
But the entire approach of the No campaign disparages and destroys that notion.
Given that the core content and arguments of the No campaign are based on material produced by a Tory government at Westminster - with George Osborne in the driving seat - that should come as no great surprise.
But the fact is that the entire No campaign appears to have completely abandoned any pretence that the Union is about an equal partnership between Scotland and England.
According to their notion of 'Union', an independent Scotland is not equal at all - according to them, we have no entitlement to the shared assets of the UK, such as the currency and central bank - though we would be expected to shoulder our share of the national debt!
Presumably it is this thinking that led the UK government to publish a paper earlier this year suggesting that Scotland had been "extinguished" in 1707. But the ideology of Union - if not the reality - was that, far from being extinguished in 1707, Scotland was enhanced as a partner with England.
No seems to have abandoned any pretence of believing in that idea - and it is why as a campaign it is empty and disconnected and, when the scares no longer work, will find itself with nowhere else to go.
Ironically, but significantly, the Scottish aspiration to equality of status which is daily disparaged by the No campaign is what the Union was meant to establish but didn't. And, today, by openly denouncing the very notion of equal status within the UK, the No campaign is proving the point that only a Yes vote can and will deliver equality for Scotland.
In that and so many other senses, independence represents a continuation of Scotland's journey as a nation.
Independence is the right choice for the 21st century.
Our job over the next 70 weeks is to persuade and inspire people across Scotland to make that choice.
And I believe that people do want to be inspired to vote Yes, not frightened into voting No. That is our opportunity.
So, our task from this day forward is to lift the campaign out of the foothills of fear that others want it to languish in. To lift it to a new height where we can see clearly the choice that is before us and the possibilities that independence opens up.
The Yes campaign will be one of optimism and aspiration. It will represent the best of Scotland. That is why I believe it can win and will win - and when it does, Scotland will never look back.
END OF SPEECH
(N.B. All emphases, italicisation, etc. are mine, and represent my view of significance. They were not present in the SNP transcription of Nicola’s speech.)
Sunday, 5 May 2013
Sunday, 28 April 2013
This headline – Declaration of independence ‘wrong for Scots appeared under Derek Lambie’s byline in today’s Scotland on Sunday. I immediately emailed The SDSDI, as did Paul McMahon. Jim Alexander of The SDSDI replied promptly to both of us, as follows -
BY EMAIL from Jim Alexander of The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence
This is the first time I have been able to read the results of phone interviews that John Glyn of Glen Stewart and I had with Derek. I can tell you that many other things were said that did not make the article.
I will say up front that the only people who can decide the issue of this case are you folks in Scotland. Nothing I can say or do overcomes that basic fact. I can state my opinion, but I really have no say in the decisions you make at the secret ballot.
The opinions of a 7th generation émigré from Scotland are just that; opinions. Most Americans do not equate the conditions in the colonies in 1776 to modern Europe, or the UK in any way. I do know that there is a Bank of Scotland, there is a Church of Scotland, there is something know as the Scottish Enlightenment, and that most of Europe is facing economic hard times. That is just context, and I am probably more aware of that than most of my countrymen.
I told the reporter that most of our members (DSDI) would probably not have an opinion one way or the other. I also never release the names and addresses of the members so I know that the reporter is in no position to say what most of the descendants of the Scottish Signers have to say. The remark that “their descendants are opposed to Scotland taking the same road to separation” is simply inaccurate. 2 people in an organization of over 1000 simply to not make any statement about that organization at all.
I am of the opinion that all the economic issues will not go away if Scotland decides to go its own way. I am also of the opinion that what you gain with the complete break is another level of bureaucracy and its associated costs.
I have indeed visited Scotland twice, and the whole subject of independence never came up, so consider that when you read “I’ve yet to meet people who can give me a definitive answer as to what would be gained from independence. “ you need to know that I did not ask that question and no one answered. With regard to a breakup as unsettling, I did say that the prospect of Canada breaking apart as few years ago as unsettling to many Americans.
No matter what happens, we will adapt and adjust to the realities on the ground. And we both live in a system that gives us the opportunity to vote on the issue.
I replied, as follows -
Thanks for your prompt and courteous reply to Paul and copy to me.
I thought the situation would be more nuanced than the way it was reported, by a newspaper often hostile to Scotland's independence.
I will make sure that is reflected to a wider Scottish audience now engaged in the great debate taking place in the country we all love. Our First Minister recently spoke at the Brookings Institution and his speech is well worth a listen. He was received with the kind of unfailing courtesy but vigorous questioning that I have come to expect from Scotland's American friends
with best regards
from Kirkliston - the Scottish village where the first recorded meeting of the Scottish Parliament was held in 1265
Thursday, 29 November 2012
Sept. 2009: My hopes for 2010 and the General election (The Brown Labour Government was still in office)
Three years on, two heart attacks and a cardiac arrest later, a lot of water has flowed under many bridges – and over them. We have had the destruction of New Labour, the benighted Coalition Government, the wonderful SNP victory in 2011, the referendum confirmed at last, the Arab Spring, and second term for Obama – but also the endless litany of death and destruction in Afghanistan.
“Don’t look back - no good can come of it” HUMPHREY BOGART
Well, maybe sometimes, Bogie – remember your history or be condemned to repeat it …
Wednesday, 30 September 2009
I watched the Brown speech, keeping a sick bag handy just in case. I didn't need it, but it was a close run thing. But I was caught off guard by the introductory sequence before Sarah Brown. Manipulative though it was, the early part reminded me sharply of what Blair, Brown, Mandelson and Campbell destroyed - the old Labour Party and its values, or as Gordon Brown would put it, its 'volues'. Much use was made of the flag of death - the Union Jack - fluttering on the screens on either side, and also visible on the centre screen, in the hope that this would deflect the faithful from remembering just what these carpetbagging Scots had done to the Labour Party and the English nation.
Sarah Brown was as effective as she was at the last conference. A formidable public relations professional, she judged the mood perfectly, and although it was more than a little saccharine for my taste, it pressed the right buttons. As a Scottish Nationalist, I am grateful that she is not the Prime Minister, and I suspect many of the Labour faithful wish fervently that she was.
Her personality, however carefully crafted it is, comes across as natural, warm and sincere. It contrasted sharply with the personality that followed her - a Frankensteinian creation as false as a Hollywood facelift, reminiscent of Peter Boyle's performance with Gene Wilder.
Brown scattered new radical policies like party favours, promising to do all the things New Labour has spectacularly failed to do in its three benighted terms of office. His voice at times shook with emotion, but emotion prompted by the thought that this was most probably his swansong. The conference focused my mind on a question I have been wrestling with for some time - what outcome do I want from the UK General election?
I am driven by a primary emotion to see Labour punished for Iraq, for Afghanistan, for the British banking collapse, for their attacks on civil liberties, for their obsession with war and nuclear destruction and for their betrayal of the traditions and values of the Party.
But I recognise that I must look objectively at the consequences of their electoral destruction - a Tory government that might last for another twelve years. Although this would almost certainly yield a Thatcher Factor advantage to the SNP's electoral prospects, it would be bad for the nations that presently comprise the UK, bad for Europe, and bad for world peace. I am still an internationalist, and must recognise that an independent Scotland can never be indifferent to its huge neighbour nor to the regimes that it elects. So I must hope for something other than the obliteration of New Labour and the Brown Gang, and the humiliation of their Scottish servile cohorts. What would be an ideal outcome?
Firstly, I hope for an significantly increased SNP presence at Westminster.
In my dreams I see Scotland returning only SNP members of the Westminster Parliament, but that is not going to happen. There is also a nagging doubt in my mind that too many Nationalist MPs at Westminster might find that, as a group, they develop an affection for the House of Commons, and succumb to its blandishments and its perquisites. After all, it has happened to men and women with principles and beliefs as deeply rooted as those of the Scottish National Party, as the widespread corruption of Labour values has demonstrated. But I must suppress that doubt, and trust Scotland's Westminster representatives, a representation that will last only until independence is achieved..
Secondly, I hope for a governing party for the UK that has only a narrow majority, perhaps even a minority government.
Whichever it is, the balance of power would lie with the LibDems and the nationalist parties in a Rainbow Coalition, and I believe that such a delicately balanced democracy would be better for the UK, and more realistic about Scottish independence.
My greatest fear of all is that England slides insidiously towards neo-fascism and Powellite parties. English nationalism - the dog that has not barked - clearly runs that risk.
Those who come, as I do, from the liberal, internationalist tradition, like to believe that the native good sense of the people will recognise the threat, and will recoil from the views of the parties that pose the threat. This is the thinking behind the view that the BBC is right to permit the BNP to appear on a Question Time panel - the great, fair-minded democratic British public will see Nick Griffin and his party for what they are.
Well, I'm not so sure. I have watched that great British public on the media, and have seen what pushes their buttons, and the sight does not inspire confidence. I know from my own range of contacts that beneath the democratic veneer, many otherwise admirable upright citizens have a rather uncertain grasp of the great principles of democracy and freedom, and have the political mindset of the saloon bar Tory at best, and the neo-fascist at worst.
It is not only the deprived sub-culture of the shaven-headed that might be sympathetic to the simplistic, brutal, divisive policies of the extreme right - remember the kind of people that put Mussolini and Hitler in power.
Perhaps the BBC has no choice but to permit a legal party that has made recent significant gains to offer their views on Question Time, but we should be fully aware that, at a time of widespread distrust of our political and financial institutions, in the wake of the banking crisis and the expenses scandal, and during a recession when many people are being deeply hurt by the venality and short-sightedness of their elected representatives, that simple, brutal messages that pin the blame on minorities within our society will resonate dangerously with many voters.
Monday, 7 May 2012
". . . whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them right."
What brought this quote to mind again? Partly a continuing concern about the role of the media in the independence debate, and a recollection of the quote heading a feature in New Scientist, October 2011 edition. This 8-page special report by Shawn Lawrence Otto and Peter Aldhous examines the decline and fall of reason in American politics and public life. Its two introductory paragraphs set the scene -
“The US was founded on enlightenment values and is the most powerful scientific nation on earth. And yet the status of science in public life has never appeared to be so low.
…. US politics, especially on the right, appears to have entered a parallel universe where ignorance, denial and unreason trump facts, evidence and rationality.” New Scientist, Decline and Fall, Oct. 2011
Shawn Lawrence Otto’s article is full of little gems, among them quotes from the Republican candidates as they then were for the 2012 Presidential election. After a litany of their irrational, non-scientific and often religious dogma-based views on various matters, including evolution, creationism, vaccination, climate change, homosexuality – which would be risible if they were not so terrifying – he makes the chilling point that “Republicans diverge from anti-science politics at their peril” and cites Mitt Romney hastily recanting on his view that humans contributed to global warming when faced with an attack from right-wing commentator Rush Limbaugh.
On Congress, he has this to say -
“Less than 2 per cent of its 535 members have professional backgrounds in science. In contrast, there are 222 lawyers, whom one suspects largely avoided science classes in college. Lawyers are trained to win arguments, and as any trial lawyer will tell you, that means using facts selectively for the purposes of winning, not to establish the truth. No wonder ideology and rhetoric have come to dominate policy discussion, often bearing little relationship to factual reality.” Shawn Otto Lawrence Oct. 2011
But to me, his most telling observation is this one -
Science is politics
“But to view science as apolitical is a fundamental error. Science is always political because the new knowledge it created requires refining our morals and ethics, and challenges vested interests. Withdrawing from the conversation cedes these discussions to opponents, which is exactly what happened.” Shawn Otto Lawrence Oct. 2011
He goes on to describe the retreat of American science from the political arena, leaving the field clear for fundamentalist religion to address the fears of the people over “the increasing moral complexities of science" in a voice that “grew evangelical, angry, anti-science and intensely political.”
We don’t have to look to America to recognise these profoundly anti-democratic tendencies at work – they are dangerously alive right here in Scotland and the UK, on climate change, on gay marriage, on renewable energy sources, on the role of churches and religions in a secular democracy, on nuclear energy, on defence, on the nuclear deterrent, on foreign interventionism, on the nature of nationalism, on religious education in schools, in the history curriculum, in faith schools, on House of Lords reform, the monarchy, the established church – the list goes on.
With a few notable exceptions, scientists and engineers are not drawn to either politics or religion as a career or, to be more high-minded, as a vocation.
Politics once was a choice for those of independent means – the landed aristocracy - but now those with a military background, business people, teachers, lawyers and, for around a century now, trades unionists predominate. These groups usually only entered the political process proper after establishing themselves for some years in their original professions.
With the growth of the significance of media in politics, media professionals can be added to this list, and we now have another group, the professional career politicians – direct entrants to politics with relevant degrees, usually a PPE degree (philosophy, politics and economics) who enter as special advisers, often on a basis a patronage or sponsorship, and move effortlessly into representative roles as MPs, MSPs, etc. (For some of the latter, it has become almost a hereditary calling, if not a family business venture.)
There are also doubtless a fair number of economists and accountants in Parliament among those I have lumped together as business people, not to mention stockbrokers and city people. Since most of these occupations require no more than the basic numeracy of a bookie’s clerk (in fact most bookie’s clerks could run rings round them!) the number of MPs and MSPs who have to capacity to evaluate the mathematical and statistical validity and significance of vital scientific evidence, social statistics, and dare I mention it, opinion polls results is probably miniscule.
(For the record, I count myself among those with strictly limited numeracy, although numbers have formed a central part of my business career. But I have at least a very basic grasp of probability, of statistics, of sampling, and of the vital logical processes required for any voter to distinguish shit from Shinola when it comes to the political arguments and the confident assertions of politicians and journalists.)
One only has to scan the front benches of the UK Parliament to see the results of this. Of course, the argument is that the democratic institutions of a nation have to represent the diversity of that nation, and as Churchill once observed drily, this must perforce include some idiots.
Specialised expertise can supposedly be drawn when required from the permanent civil service and from special advisers and experts. Yet embarrassing examples of the polarisation of expert opinion when it comes to supposedly immutable facts relating to the independence of Scotland have abounded.
Let’s look at the polarisation in our world, now reflected in the great debate started by the questions surrounding Scotland’s independence, a debate that has ramifications far beyond Scotland – for the UK, for England, for Wales, for Northern Ireland, for the Republic of Ireland, for Catalonia, for Canada and Quebec, for Europe, for Scandinavia, for NATO and, through the defence alliance, for the US. These are not the fantasies of a Scottish nationalist , they are a stark political reality, as the recent furore over Michael Ignatieff and Canada and Quebec has so recently demonstrated.
Doubtless inadvertently omitting all sort of vital questions, here’s what I see as some of the big global issues -
Global warming/climate change
World poverty and gross inequalities across the range of vital resources – food, water, medical care, etc..
World’s water supply
Islam and Christianity – crisis of competing values
Religious fundamentalism in any creed
Tensions between religious and secular values
The Arab Spring and its consequences for both successful and unsuccessful liberation movements
Israel and the Palestinians
The US and its relationship with Israel
China’s exponential growth in the world economy
The Afghanistan war
Iran and nuclear power/weapons
North Korea – nuclear weapons and instability
Pakistan and India – political instability and tensions: nuclear issues
Russia – instability and nuclear issues
The US – political polarisation and instability
International finance and banking – scale of operation, instability, amorality
The operations, values, ethics of multi-national and transnational companies
All of the above affect Europe and the UK.
(I have avoided comment on events and problems in many other countries – e.g. Latin America, Scandinavia, Australia and New Zealand, Indonesia - because I don’t know enough to determine their significance. )
Among the European issues are -
The Future of the EU and the euro
Economic instability of some European nations
The resurgence of neo-fascism and the far right.
NATO and defence issues
The UK - political instability, loss of trust in key institutions, gross inequalities between regions:
also - the Irish question – North and South: The UK’s concept of its role in the world: the Falklands: the economic problems: the monarchy: the loss of electoral dominance by the three major parties: the nature of devolution as a process: the House of Lords: the dominance of Oxbridge people and values in business and political life – the list is pretty well endless …
It is obvious that Scotland is affected, directly or indirectly by all of these issues.
What is becoming increasingly obvious by the month is that Scotland’s independence referendum, and the implications of that potential independence, impinge on many of them, out of all proportion to Scotland’s size as a country, however measured.
It is no exaggeration to say the Scotland's independence is the butterfly’s wing flap - Butterfly effect - that will trigger significant world reactions with unforeseeable consequences – a great wind that bloweth where it listeth.
As the referendum lead-time shortens, every one of the above issues will be brought into play by both the pro and anti-independence camps, and the arguments will be supported by conflicting numbers, expert evidence and conflicting perspectives of key events.
The voter, bemused, will either abandon the struggle, opting out or respond to superficial political slogans and old loyalties, or alternatively, will call in vain for non-partisan, unimpeachable professionals to help them through the fog, since there are few or none in a question of this scale and import.
But many will claim to be such sources - the think tanks, funded by big-moneyed individuals with dubious agendas and vested interest groups, religious groups substituting dogma for reason, the tabloid press, and the big-mouthed columnists who substitute rants for reason.
Since the crucial skills of comparing, validating and evaluating information sources, the relative merits of conflicting arguments and the validity of statistical claims are rarely taught in our schools in a political or religious context, many voters will fail to make the distinction between opinion and informed opinion, between information and propaganda and spin.
The skills of the advocate and the lawyer will shade insidiously into the skills of the PR people and the hidden persuaders, and will obscure the objective methodology of the scientist, the engineer, the mathematician.
Some scientists and engineers will be complicit in this process, serving the false God of their political and social prejudices at the expense of objectivity and truth, not to mention the nutty professors and bought-and-paid-for academics who will pop up, justifying their lucrative US lecture tours and research grants bankrolled by big oil interests opposed to renewables, and right-wing military/industrial complex money, enamoured of war and nuclear weaponry, fuelling paranoia.
What to do?
Well, that must be reserved for a subsequent blog, once I get the ideas rattling round in my head that the local elections started off sorted out into some sort of coherent proposals …